State Sen. Eric Mansfield’s message to the Surry County Chapter of the NAACP started with a question.
That question was framed in his introduction by NAACP Official Ric Marshall, who told the crowd about a 30-year veteran worker who cleans the governor’s office but now cannot vote because her ID is no longer acceptable after new voting legislation passed.
“Why do we celebrate 50 years of NAACP in Surry County?” Mansfield asked the assembled at the 47th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet on Saturday in the J.J. Jones Alumni Auditorium.
“Why talk about the mission of the NAACP in a time when many, even African-Americans, look down at their feet and whisper, do we need the NAACP?” he asked the crowd. He pointed to many accomplishments by the minorities.
“This is not the same America as in 1968,” said Mansfield. “Many of us earn in one day more or as much as our parents earned in a month.” His answer to the assembly was that in spite of accomplishments “we still need the NAACP.”
Mansfield outlined three reasons for the group to continue. He said the NAACP must remind America of the valuable contributions made by African-Americans. He said reason number two was because there is still work to do and the third reason was to point African-Americans to a greater hope for the nation to be a more perfect union.
“Nobody else can do this for us,” said Mansfield. “We have to stand up for ourselves. We must be our own Emancipation Proclamation. What Martin Luther King was seeing in 1968 is still what we see now.” He told the group his mother taught him to “grow up and have a rich life, not grow up for a life of riches. It is not the clothing you have on the outside but the character on the inside.”
“When it comes to the fabric of this country,” continued Mansfield. “Show me George Washington and I will show you a George Washington Carver. Show me a Ronald Reagan and I will show you a Barack Obama.”
“We (as a group) have to put aside our differences and petty arguments. We do not have the luxury of dispute. There are too many people in pain,” said Mansfield, who encouraged the group to become more politically active. He used the story of Jesus and the paralyzed man from the Gospel of John. In this Gospel, Jesus asked the paralyzed man if he wanted to be made whole after lying on his mat for 38 years.
Jesus’s command to the supplicant was simply to get up and that was Mansfield’s message to the NAACP.
“When you see there is something to be done, get up,” He said. “When you hear something that is being said that is wrong you have to speak up; when you see someone who is down, pull them up and when you don’t know what you’re talking about … then shut up.”
He told the group to not give up hope as they challenge what he called the most cynical and racially polarized politics in years with two simple words, “We Believe.”
He summed up his speech by saying that if “we believe” in standing for righteousness no matter what the odds, justice will always prevail.
“We must fight together,” concluded Mansfield. “When we come together there is no mountain we cannot climb. There is no victory we cannot win.”
Mansfield is also a physician, minister and a former soldier who lives in Fayetteville.
He is in his first term as a senator representing Cumberland County and ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, losing to former state personnel director Linda D. Coleman. Coleman also served in the General Assembly.
Members of Surry County Chapter of the NAACP were excited to have Mansfield speak at the annual event because he is known as a dynamic and inspirational speaker.
NAACP branches across the country typically hold such events as the annual Freedom Fund Banquet to generate money for local defense funds to help those in need of legal representation or similar services.
In addition to the address by Mansfield, the program included special music and remarks by Surry NAACP representatives including President Faye Carter. Cordie Armstrong served as mistress of ceremonies. Dionne Dodd and Mary Nell Hatcher were hostesses for the event.
According to spokesperson Anise Hickman, this is the 47th Freedom Fund Banquet. The local NAACP is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
“Folks, that’s a very big thing,” said Armstrong. “Our theme is faith, hope, perseverance and truth, all the virtues that brought us here.”
Reach David Broyles at email@example.com or 719-1952.